More than you ever wanted to know about the loot process

Patch 7.0.3 edit: Please be aware that the Legion pre-patch has significantly changed the loot process. I will be writing about it at a later date, but for now be aware that this post  is now useful only for some very general principles and possibly for historic context.

Patch 6.2 edit: The loot system has changed slightly from when I first posted this. The details are sketchy, but the number of personal loot drops is now guaranteed to be at least equal to the number of drops for group loot, with the chance of personal loot mode dropping possibly one more piece than group loot would.

What this means for the discussion below is, there will no longer be a chance in personal loot for zero drops, and there likely will also not be a chance for everyone to receive loot. However, the overall diagram still generally works, in that the system “rolls” for people in personal loot mode, determining if they do or do not get loot, but if it is awarded, then the loot will be appropriate to class/spec (without regard to secondary stats in the case of pure DPS classes).

Tl;dr: Here’s how loot systems work. There is a new kind of raid team, the Guild PUG, and Personal Loot seems the best option for it. 

Loot Process

I think I have mentioned before that there is an ongoing debate in one of my guilds about what the best loot system is for our raid team. Since we can’t agree on Personal vs. Group Loot, the Raid Leader has been leaving it on PL for the time being.

I’ve been doing a bit of research in anticipation of the inevitable Big Raid Meeting on what system we will use going forward. It should come as no surprise that Blizz has published almost nothing on the details of how the game determines loot awards. That is probably a smart decision on their part, but it does make it challenging and frustrating for someone like me who usually wants All The Facts before committing to a course of action. Above is a flow chart I put together to summarize what I could scrape up about the loot process once a boss is killed. (“Auto-calculate” in the descriptions means the game does it for you.) Bear in mind it is a summary, so there are exceptions and special circumstances not covered by the graphic.

Facts I could find about each system:

Personal Loot

  • The RNG determines if a player will receive loot after a boss kill, rolling on the basis of Get Loot/Don’t Get Loot.  Best guess, according to a few reputable 3rd party sites I found, is that the chance of rolling Get Loot is between 10%-15%, but some sites guessed it could be as high as 20%.
  • Each player’s chance is calculated independently. Theoretically, every player could Get Loot, or none of them could get it. (See edit notes above.)
  • For every player that wins the initial RNG loot roll, the game then looks up spec-appropriate gear in the boss’s loot table, selects an appropriate item at random, and awards it to the player. This means that it is possible for multiple players to receive the same item. It also means it is possible for a given player to keep getting the same item each week. (Which of us has not been there?) Prior to WoD, I recall Blizz dropped some hints that they were looking into the “same drop every week” problem, but I don’t think anything ever came of it.
  • For every player that does not win the Get Gear roll, they will be awarded the ever-popular Gold.
  • Personal loot is not tradable, it is BoP.
  • According to a blue post by Rygarius, everyone will receive a guaranteed drop from the last boss of a dungeon in LFR. I am confused about this, because it seems like I have run LFR several times and received only gold from Imperator, so maybe that change never got implemented, or maybe the guarantee is just for the first time you ever kill that boss. Or maybe I am getting senile. If anyone has any insight into this (final boss loot, not my senility), let me know.

Group Loot (including Master Looter, need before greed, etc.)

  • The RNG keeps track of how many players were in the raid when the boss was killed, and determines how many pieces of loot will drop. The formula is one piece per every 5 people (except Mythic, which always drops 6 pieces). If the number of players is not a multiple of 5, there is an added chance for an extra piece to drop. For example, if there are 17 players, in addition to the guaranteed 3 pieces, you will get a 40% chance of a fourth piece dropping. (2 “extra” players, 1 in 5 chance per player, so 2/5 or 40% chance.)
  • Once the loot drops, the raid’s loot system takes over, and RNG is essentially out of the picture except in determining /roll amounts if those are used. If there is a Master Looter or Loot Council, they will determine who gets loot, in accordance with whatever rules have been established.
  • Again according to Rygarius, in LFR with need before greed active — is that even possible? My hatred and lack of familiarity with LFR is showing here — the final boss will always drop 3 items. Which seems to contradict the one item per 5 players rule, so once again I am confused. I think at this point I am just going to ignore the Rygarius post and dismiss it as an outlier.

Bonus Rolls

  • Players with the right currency (Seal of Tempered Fate for WoD) can roll an extra roll on every boss. There are no weekly limitations on how often you can do this, except that world bosses and final dungeon bosses can only be rolled on once a week. However, each raid difficulty level (LFR, Normal, etc.) is treated as a separate raid for loot purposes. This means even if you cannot get loot from BigBadBoss Number One in a LFR, you can still use a seal and get a chance at loot.
  • Bonus rolls incorporate Blizz’s “Bad luck streak protection” algorithm. That is, if you use a seal and don’t get any loot from a bonus roll, your chance of getting loot on the next roll will increase. It keeps increasing every time you fail to get bonus loot, resetting only after you have got something. It carries over from boss to boss and instance to instance. As long as you don’t win on a bonus roll, your chances keep increasing. Although it’s not officially stated anywhere that I could find, the streak protection seems to be on a per-character basis, not per account.
  •  Bonus loot — like other loot — is awarded based on what you have selected as your loot spec. You can select a different loot spec any time prior to your bonus roll — even a few seconds before — and get loot for that spec.
  •  The RNG mechanics of Bonus Loot work just like those for Personal Loot — auto-roll to see if you will get loot, if so select according to loot spec from loot table and award it, if not then award gold. Also, the chance of getting bonus loot is close to the chance for getting personal loot — around 15% best guess.
  • Some specific items (often mounts and quest items) cannot be gotten from bonus rolls.

So What?

So how does this information help a raid team decide what kind of loot system is best for them? Clearly, both Personal and Group loot systems have pros and cons. (Bonus Loot is always in force, so it is not really a further consideration in selecting a system.) Some of the obvious distinctions are:

  • Gear is guaranteed to drop with GL, not so with PL. (See edit above.)
  • If you do win loot with PL, it is guaranteed to be appropriate to your spec. With GL, no spec-appropriate gear may drop for you.
  • If you are in a group with several people who wear the same kind of armor you do, your chances of winning gear may be less in a GL system. Example: If you are the only plate wearer, you absolutely want GL because you will get all plate that drops, so you are only affected by the random chance of any plate dropping at all. But if you are one of 4 cloth wearers, you then have only a one in four chance of getting gear even if cloth drops, so you are affected by the random chance of cloth dropping, plus random chance of a roll. (Or, if a roll system is not in place, you must be the neediest/most deserving/etc. clothie.) Looked at from the other side, PL is much kinder to people who often compete with others for loot, and harsher on those that have no competition.

Most of the conventional wisdom says that PL is better for pugs, and GL is better for traditional guild raids. At first glance, this seems to make very good sense. After all, GL offers more control and in the long run should improve a raid team’s composite gear levels, enabling them to take on harder and harder bosses, get even better gear, succeed in progression, etc.

The problem is, most “casual” guilds no longer have traditional raid teams. With the introduction of the flex model, raids are now a kind of hybrid — “Guild PUGs”. There may be a core of people who almost always show up, but there is also a sizeable group of people who tend to rotate in and out, sometimes participating, sometimes not. It is not unusual for these players to be undergeared or have less than optimal raid skills or be unfamiliar with the specific mechanics of the raid bosses, but hey they are guildies and most raid leaders will let them run.

In such circumstances, PL is probably a better model, since it bypasses all questions of who most “deserves” a piece of gear, or even who should be allowed to compete for a certain piece of gear. In Guild PUGs, there is little advantage to GL, since the people winning the gear may not contribute in any ongoing way to the progress of the raid team. New people every raid night also usually means more wipes per boss and consequently less gear.

Yet PL also has a problem that makes it sub-optimal for guild raids. If there is in fact a core group of raiders (maybe fewer than 10, but still a core group), PL does not allow for any organized approach to improving the core group’s overall gear level. Gear upgrades are determined solely by random chance.

Then there are the psychological factors. Yes I am talking about Drama. Any Group Loot structure inevitably leads to drama, it is just human nature. Where there is human judgement involved in awarding of desired items, there will be perceptions that the human making the judgement favors someone over someone else, thus the “someone else” perceives the system to be “unfair.” This is true even when the human judgement is far removed and may only have been involved in setting up “rules.”

For example, on one of my raid teams the group loot rule is that you /roll 300 for main spec and /roll 100 for off spec, except that any main spec roll takes precedence over any off spec roll (need before greed). Only one main spec item may be won per player per night. Even this apparently “fair” system caused hard feelings. For one thing, the team rarely downed more than one boss per night, so people on a lucky streak seemed to win main spec gear all the time and people on a bad luck streak never received any gear. Some players did not gear up outside of raid, consequently they always without fail “needed” the gear, increasing the competition for other players who did gear up on their own but may have needed a specific piece from this boss. Rotational players would often join the team after we had spent weeks working on a boss and finally seemed poised to down him — you guessed it, the rotational players seemed always to win the gear while the ones who had worked at it for weeks and spent hundreds on repairs got zilch.

You see where this is going. It does not matter what the group loot system is, there is a 100% chance that at some point it will cause hard feelings for someone, and drama — either overt or submerged — will ensue. Hard core raid teams are prepared to deal with this, and if the drama causes people to leave, the teams usually have deep benches and can carry on with only minor disruption. This is not true of the majority of semi-casual raid teams.

The best argument I can come up with for PL is that it eliminates the drama. It is by no means perfect, but it seems the best option available for Guild PUGs.